President Lukashenko’s support is high, but Belarusians request change either way
For a considerable part of the electorate, President Lukashenko remains a guarantor of stability. But despite electoral support for the opposition being in decline, many see the “People’s Referendum” initiative as an alternative which could bring changes. If the democratic forces manage to agree on a single candidate who is able to propose a clear vision with a long-term strategy for reforming the country, his/her rating could vie with that of Lukashenko.
According to the March national poll by IISEPS, Lukashenko’s electoral rating reached 39.8%.
Using traditional rhetoric against the backdrop of events in Ukraine, the Belarusian authorities have succeeded in attributing Belarus’ stability to President Lukashenko.
Nevertheless, despite his rise in popularity, Lukashenko cannot consolidate Belarusian society, which is increasingly aware of the socio-economic model’s failures and of their president’s inability to make management in the public sector more efficient. President Lukashenko’s frequent visits to regional enterprises and threats to prosecute for mismanagement have neither pushed managers to act, nor improved the quality of their work. Meanwhile, with social guarantees and incomes in a downward spiral, people are discontent with the state policy.
The “People’s Referendum” project meets the population’s wishes, and new approaches to working with the electorate within the project have yielded results. Almost half (49%) of the respondents said they were willing to give their signature in support of the People’s Referendum.
Many Belarusians are demanding change and an alternative to President Lukashenko. 40.9% of respondents support the nomination of a single opposition candidate - more than the combined rating of the opposition parties and leaders. For example, the most popular opposition leader, Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu of “Tell the Truth!”, has 7% of popular support and has not seen changes in his rating for months. A single presidential candidate from the democratic opposition would consolidate the protest-minded electorate and significantly increase her/his rating before the 2015 presidential campaign.
But chances of the opposition uniting are low, as their hopes for political change in 2015 have diminished, and, as in the past, they are torn apart by mutual distrust. In addition, the single candidate from the democratic forces would be tasked with delivering a clear statement about her/his vision of possible changes in the Belarusian society.
The ‘Euromaidan’ scenario in Belarus is no longer attractive for a large part of the protest-minded electorate. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and her attempts to destabilise South-East Ukraine have triggered a broad debate within the Belarusian opposition. Various opposition groups are attempting to reach a common standpoint on how to preserve the geopolitical balance as well as Belarus’ sovereignty during democratic transformation.
Demand for a new national leader will rise as long as the current economic model continues to fall apart. Meanwhile, the Belarusian authorities will keep Lukashenko’s electoral rating at an acceptable level until the presidential campaign starts in 2015. Despite the slim chances of an opposition candidate winning the 2015 elections, her/his nomination by the democratic forces could consolidate protest voters and reduce threats to stability in the country.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.